Over the last four-plus years, Stonewall’s live shows earned them a reputation as one of the hardest rocking outfits around. They are quite literally the band to beat, as several “battle of the bands” contestants left in their musical dust can well attest. But it’s taken until now for Stonewall to commit their energetic hybrid of metal and melody to disc.
Solid from start to finish, “What If?” was definitely worth the wait. The fuzz-toned opener, “Blessing For Pearls,” rips a page from Zeppelin and blends it with post-millennial angst. “Janitor Man” will invite Alice in Chains comparisons – deservedly so. Lead guitarist and vocalist Josh Parker’s baritone hovers just above a growl.
“Vengeance” is a good example of Stonewall’s hard-edged melodic style. The 8-minute track begins in a flurry of heavy metal bullets. It then crosses over a polyrhythmic structure featuring a few speedy guitar figures from Parker, before settling into a blistering boogie.
Make no mistake, while most of the record rocks, it’s never buried in sturm und drang. This thematically dark “Masculincense” (Parker may have wrote it after a night of old Nine Inch Nails videos) churns and roils, then ends with a tasty blues progression.
“Comatoasted” is reminiscent of Primus, another 90’s power trio. It’s a ride that starts slow and turns into a runaway train. “Your Sweet Intents” achieves the same energy, showcasing Ryan Young’s staccato drumming and featuring one of Parker’s meatiest solos.
Young and six-string bassist Philip Chiu are a brawny rhythm section throughout, but the duo also bring a gentle touch to the record’s quieter moments. These include the Stone Temple Pilots dead ringer “Grain,” with Parker majestically soloing at song’s end. The snarky power ballad “Straight White Teeth,” a Stonewall live staple for about as long as they’ve been playing, makes the move from stage to studio with aplomb.
Speaking of Stonewall standards, it’s a mystery why the punched-up rocker “Hearing Loss” didn’t make it on to “What If?” Maybe the band is saving it for a future EP.
If they’re reminiscent of anyone, it’s bands whose heyday came long before anyone in the band was born. The James Gang, Mountain and Three Man Army – the youngsters in Stonewall may not know these relics by name, but be assured their spirit lives in their music.
It’s essential to note the production team that shepherded “What If?” through its’ nearly two year journey to completion. Early on, Shamus Martin worked with the band at Exsubel Studios, mixing them and helping them find a polished studio sound without sacrificing their live edge.
The production credit, however, goes to the late Doug Bashaw. Committing a power trio to tape – or these days, digital bits – can be a delicate balancing act. Bashaw added enough studio magic – guitar bags, phased vocals, SFX – to make the record more than simply a document of a great live band, but not at the expense of Stonewall’s essence.
Stonewall CD Release Party
All Ages Show
Saturday, October 4, 7 PM
Claremont Moose Lodge